Protesters face off with activist outside Ottawa school

Counter-protesters gathered to take a stand against a man the Ottawa Carleton District School Board is calling an anti-trans activist outside a west end school Tuesday.

Dozens of people greeted Chris Elston outside Nepean High School on Broadview Avenue. The B.C. man is in Ottawa protesting against what he calls “gender ideology”--the idea that children can be born into the wrong body. Elston doesn't believe gender identity should be taught in schools. 

A counter-protest organized by Rainbow Carleton sought to block students’ view of Elston’s one-man demonstration as he stood outside the school with a sign.

Those gathered held signs saying ‘Trans Youth Matter’ and ‘Protect Trans Kids’ and chanted “Trans rights are human rights.” City councillor Catherine McKenney and several other elected officials attended.

“We’ve been here before. A decade or two ago, it was Reverend Phelps from the Baptist church down in the States coming up. Anti-gay protests, anti-same-sex marriage..this is just recycled bigotry, really,” McKenney told CTV Morning Live before the counter-protest. “This shouldn’t be a debate. This is about children’s health.”

Elston first made headlines in September 2020 when he paid for a billboard that read “I Heart JK Rowling” in support of the Harry Potter author’s views on gender identity. He tweeted this week that he planned to be outside Nepean H.S., Broadview Public School and Notre Dame High School, which are all on Broadview Avenue. The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board responded to say "such acts of hatred are upsetting" and that the school board would ensure no one trespasses on school grounds.

It has come to our attention that an anti-transgender protester planned a small demonstration on Broadview Avenue today, near two OCDSB schools. Such acts of hatred are upsetting. We are actively monitoring the situation and ensuring there is no trespass on school grounds.

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— OCDSB (@OCDSB) October 18, 2021

"I just want to talk to parents because it is in school where children are getting indoctrinated. It is also on social media. It is an ideology not science," Elston told CTV News Ottawa.

But counter-demonstrators, like Lily King, an education assistant, said Elston's message is damaging to a vulnerable community.

"We have a lot of trans-identified students," King said. "They are loved and cared for and supported."

Among the counter-demonstrators was Lyra Evans, Canada's first openly trans school trustee, who said conversations inside schools are critical.

"Trans people were the punchlines as jokes and nothing else. And I faced a lot of bullying," Evans said. "I think it's really important that we teach young people about these words and identities at a young age so that they don’t feel lost or like they are the only ones."

As the afternoon demonstration grew, Elston eventually packed up his sandwich board and left. 

"The students accomplished in 20 minutes what half the politicians in Ottawa couldn’t in an hour :) He’s leaving," Coun. Jeff Leiper said on Twitter.

Parents and students who attended the counterdemonstration told CTV News they would not be silenced.

"My daughter identifies as non-binary. What I want to see in education is science-based learning—not dogma, not people's opinions—and we know what the science says," one parent said.

--With files from CTV News Ottawa's Leah Larocque.